If you’d voted UKIP in Redbridge

Today UKIP made contact through the letterbox. Nobody is expecting a major swing to them in Redbridge so I don’t really need to write this. Maybe somebody living in a south-east coastal town or up north will read it. Pledge by pledge, this is their leaflet.

Early reference to ‘tired old parties’.

Political parties don’t get tired because they’ve been around a long time. And anyway, UKIP is famously old, backed by old and supported by old. And anyway, what’s so wrong with old? In fact, what is ‘old’?

Deduct half a point for making cheap statements and half a point for negativity.

UKIP Councillors would have the right to vote in the best interests of the people that they represent, rather than following a predetermined party line.

The strapline of the entire leaflet, which blatantly contradicts the statement above, is ‘Vote UKIP Get UKIP’. Both statements can’t be true.

The thing about party lines is that aren’t all about bossy people at the top pushing their agenda on the little guy. Party lines are chosen by candidates, not the other way round – otherwise the candidate would presumably be standing as an independent. The major party themes are also developed by consensus, rather than on one person’s whim.

Another important point about party lines is that they broadly let voters know what they’re getting when they vote for a candidate – if UKIP Councillors don’t have a party line on anything, then a vote for UKIP is like voting for an independent candidate. The reason few independent candidates succeed is that, without the benefit of a selection process within their party, most of them give the impression of being superficial, inexperienced, ill-disciplined people of uncertain principles, pursuing vanity projects or narrow single issues. Those who don’t mainly fail to convince voters that they will be able to sufficiently inform themselves to properly think through every decision – this constant need for reliable intelligence is where a political party comes in very handy. If you want an independent candidate, then don’t vote UKIP – vote for the kindest, most generous, most hard-working, most intelligent candidate.

Deduct 2 points for incoherence.

UKIP Councillors would work to provide much-needed permanent leisure facilities around the borough.

I thought this could only mean a permanent swimming pool – a Labour pledge after the Conservatives were criticised for proposing to waste a lot of money on a temporary pool. But UKIP don’t mention a pool, which indicates that they are reluctant to pledge a pool. So they aren’t pledging a pool. What exactly are they pledging?

Deduct 1 point for vagueness and coyness.

UKIP Councillors would work to keep control of council tax, ensuring a fairer Redbridge for all residents.

What do they mean, ‘keep control of’? Where does council tax threaten to wander off to? Is somebody trying to snatch  it? To the best of my knowledge, this statement is meaningless.

Deduct 5 points for misleading scaremongering. Add 2 points for striving to seem less racist by mentioning ‘all residents’.

UKIP Councillors would work to ensure that housing policy will reflect the needs of all residents.

This is not distinctive – every single candidate will pledge to do this in their own way – because it is absolutely core to a councillor’s job. The question is, according to what principles would they balance the needs of all residents? And what about those who seek to become residents? Again, there is no UKIP line to which we can refer here.

Deduct 1 point for wasting text and 3 points for taking voters for fools (making confident pledges without declaring any principles).

UKIP Councillors would work to improve street cleansing across the whole of the borough.

Again, this is not distinctive – all candidates pledge this.

Deduct 1 point for wasting text.

UKIP Councillors would work to improve law and order in the borough.

See above.

Deduct 1 point for wasting text.

UKIP Councillors would work to improve facilities for the elderly and vulnerable.

Again, this is something that all councillors have to do, irrespective of their political persuasion. It isn’t optional at all. But by going out of their way to mention older people while omitting younger people who have had their services cut and thin job prospects, UKIP again demonstrate a failure to understand intergenerational tensions and inequality.

See above – deduct 1 point for wasting text, and 2 points for poor selectivity.

UKIP Councillors would work to provide priority in adult social care for local residents.

I don’t understand what this means – are there non-local residents who are demanding adult social care? I don’t think you can apply for social care unless you are a local resident. Given UKIP’s reputation for stoking fears of foreigners, I detect some nasty insinuations in this pledge.

Deduct 5 points for groundlessly planting suspicion that social care is being poached by non-residents.

I’m missing anything on local jobs, healthcare or schools. Deduct 5 points for each of these important omissions.

Help us to make a difference in Redbridge on May 22nd 2014

Change for the worse, I’m certain.

Turning over, we get the smiling face of James Kellman – I think this is a lightly customised national leaflet, since our UKIP Action Team seems to be just one gent.

We learn he is a long-term local man. He is happily married. Turkish wife. Why would he mention the nationality of his wife? Because UKIP is characterised for the attraction it exerts on racists and xenophobes. He worked for Transport for London for 20 years and is now self-employed with more time. Former Conservative, disenchanted with the main parties on the EU.

He has one specific desire: transparency in Council matters. He doesn’t say what this means, or where they fall short now (the meetings are already public and well-documented, for example).

“You will no doubt have several candidates from different parties doorstepping you – it is felt better to leave you in peace”.

UKIP have not attracted enough volunteers to knock on our doors and talk with us about our local concerns, so this is really making a virtue of necessity. On the ‘leaving in peace’ part, what James hopes to distract us from is that canvassing is an important part of democracy. Working street by street, sitting councillors, candidates and party volunteers gain a deep familiarity with their constituency and those who campaign throughout the year can grasp changes for the worse or better. They report fly-tipping and anything else that needs fixing as they encounter it, and they have a chance to start illuminating conversations with residents who would otherwise be unlikely to make a first approach to a politician. This is another benefit of being in an organised, disciplined party rather than a loose collection of Europhobes with barely anything to unite them.

I think it comes to minus 33.

I’d score the other parties in the minus, but that would be the lowest out of Greens, Labour, Conservative and Lib Dem. And although I am extremely appalled with politics, I believe that in a democracy we get the political leaders that the middle classes deserve. I am middle class, and so I have shared responsibility to strive for a better politics. A protest vote for the shambles that is UKIP has no part in that.

What UKIP supporters say

Searching the web for the phrase “UKIP supporters say” reveals how poorly UKIP serves the interests of its supporters, and the difference between what they want and what UKIP offers.

80% of UKIP supporters say that tackling the gap between rich and poor should be a government priority, according to the High Pay Centre. In contrast UKIP’s commitment to flat taxes and abolishing inheritance tax would benefit only rich families. One critical response from the left-leaning Tax Research Centre points out that, since the top 10% of earners currently pay 59% of all income tax, collapsing National Insurance and Income Tax into a single fixed rate for all would only serve to reduce the overall tax-take available to spend on public services while also preventing the rich from making a proportionate contribution. Moreover, the vast majority of UKIP supporters who responded to 3 months of YouGov polls in 2014 said that parents were right to “call in favours” to advance their children’s job prospects. That’s commonly known as nepotism, and it’s generally considered bad for morale, trust and equal opportunities. All of which is the opposite of tackling the gap between rich and poor.

UKIP positions itself as a party for working class people. See above for why this is doubtful. Tangentially, some according to a Populus survey for the Financial Times earlier this year reported in the Daily Mail, 4 in 10 UKIP supporters voted Conservative in the 2010 general election, the next largest proportion did not vote or chose a smaller party, while 15% chose the Liberal Democrats and only 7% voted Labour.

UKIP supporters are less likely than other EU opponents to appreciate the quality of the UK’s public services, according to Prospect. But UKIP is well-known for taxation policies which, while incoherent, lean strongly towards reducing public spending on these services.

61% of UKIP supporters say they will definitely vote in the European Elections, The Mirror reports, based on the . This is more than any other party’s supporters. And yet on working for their constituents, UKIP MEPs have a very poor track record

91% of UKIP supporters want to cut the 1.5% of government spending which is allocated to overseas aid, reports The Mirror. But pollution and climate change do not respect borders.

57% of UKIP supporters say they would like to live in mainland Europe, according to Prospect Magazine. However, if UKIP succeeding in withdrawing the UK from the European Union they would be far less free to do so, particularly if the UK’s influence continues to become more proportionate with its place in the world (i.e. less of an empire-wielding bully).

UKIP supporters are most likely of any party’s to drive every day and least likely to ride a bicycle, The Mirror reports. There is no discrepancy here between what UKIP supporters seem to want and UKIP’s policies. Nevertheless it’s worth saying that, to weigh against their obvious benefits, cars emit poisonous substances which have a negative impact on human health and ecosystems. National Atmospheric Emissions Inventory records state that road transport contributes about one fifth of air pollutants – and DEFRA’s summary of the effects of air pollution make grim reading – cardiovascular problems, lung disease including cancer, breathing difficulties and asthma. Environmental Protection UK points out that the UK is struggling to keep some areas within the limits set by the European Union. A 2012 coalition government policy reports that 55% of car journeys are less than 5 miles. According to Sustrans “a depressingly high proportion of short trips are made by car, 23% under a mile, 33% 1–2 miles, and 79% 2-5 miles (only 20% of these journeys are for work – shopping and school runs are a sizeable proportion). Motivated by health and well-being, there is a consensus on reducing short journeys by car to protect children (not least children who are car passengers), ill people, and people with respiratory problems. So, are UKIP local government candidates campaigning for better cycle routes and public transport? There is no mention of public transport in UKIP’s local manifesto! A search for UKIP “public transport” reveals that in the Forest of Dean UKIP candidates make one passing reference to public transport is overshadowed by promises of free parking and road maintenance. Telford and Wrekin UKIP insist that “Telford was designed for the car and would make the town driver friendly once again.” In Dudley a UKIP candidate attempts to fight private providers’ cuts to local public transport, but doesn’t mention a strategy. And most surprisingly, although outside London transport is the preserve of local government, UKIP’s 2014 local manifesto contains no reference to public transport and one reference to reducing parking charges.

UKIP supporters cheer on UKIP as a maverick plucky alternative to the established political parties. But like the Conservatives they are bankrolled by millionaires seeking influence to further business interests. Then there’s the growing catalogue of hypocrisies. According to a former UKIP MEP (though of doubtful standing) writing in the Daily Mail, Farage is known for muscling through policy changes through force of character rather than democratic deliberation among party members. Only days after Farage commented on his advertising campaign that “Most parties use actors. We use Ukippers“, UKIP’s poster campaign was exposed as improperly featuring Irish actor Dave O’Rourke posing as an unemployed UK voter. Farage was taken to task for employing his German wife (whom he does not pay minimum wage) and then claiming that no Briton could work as hard. UKIP has nothing to say to the millions of UK expats living abroad about integration and not taking jobs from the local citizens. So it’s unsurprising that UKIP donor Paul Sykes employs workers from mainland EU in jobs that UK workers could do just as well, and that the enormous fortune of UKIP Housing spokesperson Andrew Charalambous includes three quarters of a million from housing benefit, including that paid by migrant tenants. Hypocrisy and incoherence, all the way. And by the way I don’t think the problem is the hypocrisy – I am relieved that the UKIP millionaires are taking money from and giving money to migrants on the same terms. The hypocrisy is only a symptom which shows up the bad policies.

UKIP supporters are eager to emphasise that UKIP is not racist. But despite spectacular attempts at ‘weeding’ out the racists UKIP has attracted, they just seem to keep on coming. When Enfield candidate William Henry recently stated that Dudley-born actor, broadcaster and comedian Lenny Henry should emigrate to a “black country”, senior UKIP officials closed ranks. Farage has obliquely defended Henry by changing the subject, while the deputy chair Neil Hamilton tried to distract us by calling the matter a distraction. it is understandable that most people assume that UKIP favours discriminating against minorities in Britain. Its 2010 manifesto was disproportionately concerned with British Muslims (93% of supporters think it is acceptable to single out ultra-orthodox Muslim women about their attire), its 2014 manifesto overtly associates Romanians with crime as if national identity could be a cause, and its recently-launched poster campaign is generally thought reminiscent of the British National Party (BNP leader Nick Griffin also claims this).  It is inadequate simply to claim not to be racist – anti-racism is something which needs to be evidenced in policy and demonstrated through action. UKIP are not taking these measures, because to do so would interfere with their activity in the European Parliament where they are the largest party in the Europe of Freedom and Democracy grouping of extreme right-wing MEPs. The leader of the next largest party, Italy’s Lega Nord is on record suggesting opening fire on boats of Africans who wanted to migrate to Italy, while another of its MEPs called for segregation between immigrants and native Italians. There’s far worse to worry about with the Europe of Freedom and Democracy, but I’ll stop there. (Only, is it any wonder, with gangs of MEPs like those, that the EU struggles to get things done?).

Two thirds of UKIP supporters say that they will even vote UKIP if it is likely to be a wasted vote, reports the Daily Mail. This means that Labour, pro-EU and one of the last parties most UKIP supporters want to see in power, is most likely to prevail in the 2015 general election.

And lastly here’s a curious thing. According to Prospect 4% of UKIP supporters would vote to stay in the EU. Perhaps they are the truly disaffected.

Omitted: housing, defence, countryside, and climate change, among many other things.

 

Hi tech, the hyper-meritocracy and the rest

A lot of people think that investment in hi-tech will get the world out of the economic doldrums. Under the current system of distributing wealth I very much doubt it. Recently I read an April 2014 edition Prospect article by John McDermott titled You’re next. Will technology make professional jobs redundant? (behind a paywall) which reminded me that not only do I doubt it but I expect the opposite. It reminded me to leave myself a note here about the several things I’ve come across recently which point most persuasively and ominously in this direction.

From the aforementioned McDermott:

“Behind the voguish discussion about technology is perhaps a more important trend: the declining share of income going to labour than capital. And without a political response, the type of technological change discussed by [techno-optimists] Brynjolfsson and McAfee would only further such a divergence.”

McDermott speculates that “new machine age continues to regard capital at the expense of labour”. Because of what I’ll euphemistically call a distribution problem, that capital is concentrated in the hands of a few. For this reason he doubts that education can address the inequalities inherent in a hyper-meritocracy – even with the indignity of ‘venture-philanthropy’. I was reminded of the My Teacher is an App episode I wrote about recently – the Waldorf school in silicon valley where the Google and Yahoo employees send their kids to keep those creative little minds far, far away from the operation of a computer.

I often argue with one of my closest work colleagues. I think that, because of the way this society is organised, computers will take away jobs from more humans than they create jobs for. He is skeptical. Here is a concrete example of my being right. April 2nd was Autism Awareness Day. I’ve twice been thrown into the company of a student at work I’m almost certain is on the spectrum, and I’ve become quite interested in what I understand his challenges to be (and many others – autism is one-in-a-hundred), so I listened to an RSA recording titled Autism at Work: Releasing Talent and Harnessing Creativity. From it I discovered that people with autism tend to be punctual, like routine, are content to do the repetitive tasks their colleagues dislike – and, in passing, that they are losing precisely those jobs to computerised labour. Most people with autism would like to be employed but, squeezed out by machines and misunderstandings, most are not.

Certainly Luddites were right about the problem of machines. Why is technology so attractive to employers that they would prefer to render vast tracts of their potential custom without the disposable income to actually buy their product? Humans, as variable capital, are unreliable. When they go wrong, the employer pays twice – once for their sustenance as workers (their food, fuel, shelter i.e. their wage) and once for their replacement while they take their compassionate leave, maternity, sickness, industrial dispute, resignation or whatever. Machines only need maintenance and phased replacement. Philosopher of education David Blacker devotes quite a lot of the early part of his book The Falling Rate of Learning (sorry, it’s Zero Books – I received it as a gift otherwise I would have hesitated because of at least one of Zero’s authors) to this matter. Citing the economist Tyler Cowen (as does John McDermott above – she must be worth reading. Oh. He’s not a she.) Blacker doubts that hi-tech can sustain education beyond a basic level.

“The trouble is that once those initial large productivity gains have been reaped, the return on the human capital investment levels off – perhaps to the point of unfeasibility. Ironically, while technological development made human universal education possible, those same technological developments and subsequent productivity increases render further education for the masses mostly a waste.”

But surely workers are needed to actually make and run the machines? And here it gets very dark, but very plausible, and I will quote at length (pp47-47 of the 2014 Kindle Edition),

“As the machines get better, however, by definition even a smaller percentage of the machine-maintainers are ultimately needed. This level of expensive educational investment simply does not “pay” with regard to most people, because more and more of us are not exactly needed for much of anything. No longer needed as workers, the domestic masses are needed as open mouths into which to force feed as much consumption as possible, an irrational strategy that purchases short-term overconsumption at the price of long-term underconsumption (due to the inevitable ensuing debt overload) and hence is defeating of its very purpose. Domestically at least, neoliberalism really needs consumers and otherwise neutralized types (e.g. the incarcerated) rather than the industrial era of capitalism’s skilled and semi-skilled labor. For the dirty little secret of the high tech economy is that, despite incessant boosterism to the contrary, it does not need widespread technical competence; most jobs in the high tech environment demand stultifying activities that require nothing beyond basic literacy – if that. … For every “high tech, high wage” worker enjoying a cool workplace at google.com, there are many, many more who are “enjoying” the inverse proportion between high tech and their job demands: the higher the tech, the dumber the worker can be and, ultimately, in the best case neoliberal scenario, phased out altogether where possible (via outsourcing and/ or further automation).”

But even though so many of the biggest companies in the world are involved in peddling consumables (Google is primarily an advertising company, for example) nobody thinks a consumer economy is a good idea. In Blacker’s world very few people get paid sufficiently to consume, so his expectation is that they will be allowed to perish. Which reminds me of the recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change which temporarily sobered up the establishment for a week or so.

In the book Blacker distinguishes between old kinds of capitalists – upstanding, patrician, enlightened sorts – and new, socially useless kinds who avoid paying tax and when faced with healthy competition, instead, blob-like, attempt to absorb their competitors. He mentions in passing that Henry Ford, one of the old kind, decided to pay his workers $5 per day to create a blue collar middle class which could afford to buy his cars. For the first time I thought of him fondly. Then a bum note crept in – could this even work in a profitable industry? Apparently not – I read a right-winger insisting that Ford paid over the going rate simply to retain a particularly skilled workforce which was very costly to replace at a time – 1913 – when demand for labour outstripped supply.

Not like now. Even if there is growth, it doesn’t have much of a chance to touch the majority of us.

Bonus links:

  • On BBC Radio 4’s The Bottom Line, 29th March, Evan Davies interviews a panel of entrepreneurs who service the super-rich. I found them craven, venal, and generally revolting, and I had the impression that they even embarrassed their host.
  • And spitting in the eye of that, The Austerity Delusion, a May 2013 talk at the RSA by political economist Mark Blyth, who in answer to an audience question points out that, no, the world’s richest can’t buy enough services to flush a stagnant economy – (also available as audio only – but if you don’t really grasp Ivy League economics you may need his slides).

Update – see too:

  • Equity in the Age of the Robot – a Resolution Foundation event on 29th April 2014 with Diane Coyle, Izabella Kaminska, Alan Manning and Michael Osborne. Follow the Twitter hashtag #robotage.

 

 

On immigration, hit the nasty party where it hurts

The migration fairy story:

“Once upon a time, a poor woodcutter, of no great skill, decided go in search of work. He left behind his family and his home in the forest, with promises that he would one day return with wealth and comfort. ‘Here, food is scarce and life is hard’, he told his wife, ‘but I have heard tell of other places where there are chances for a man like me to make my fortune’. After much hardship and long days of travel, he reached the edge of the forest where he found the borders of a wealthy kingdom. There he found his way barred by guards. ‘Who are you and why do you seek to enter?’ they asked. ‘Please let me in’, he replied, ‘I am a poor man, but I work hard. I promise through my labour I will make your kingdom even greater and richer than it already is’. The guards agreed to let him in saying that they would give him five years and a day to prove his worth. So the poor man entered and worked hard, digging, scrubbing, and labouring for the Kings’ subjects. And the longer he stayed the more his affection for the kingdom and its people grew. After five years and one day, the guards acknowledged he had proved his worth and welcomed him as a true subject of the kingdom. ‘But may I ask for one thing more?’ said the man. ‘I have a wife and children at home. They are poor and have nothing. If you value all I have done, would you permit them to come to your kingdom and make their life with me?’ And the guards, being wise and fair, and recognizing his endeavours agreed. His family, overjoyed when he sent for them, came at once, and they all lived happily ever after.”

Anti-Raids Network 'know your rights' poster

Anti-Raids Network ‘know your rights’ poster

Further to my previous post on the anti-immigrant Go Home campaign, news of civil-liberty-defying spot checks on immigration status (these aren’t new and I’m not sure if they’re intensifying – but they are now newsworthy in the light of the government’s Go Home campaign against migrants). Dark-skinned people in particular have been subjected to stop-and-checks by Border Agency officials on the transport system. Southall Black Sisters (a domestic abuse support network) have reported that police summoned to crime scenes have taken the opportunity to conduct inappropriate checks of immigration. British Transport Police are inviting the Border Agency along. And then there are the vans with the pictures of handcuffs on them and the phrase, Go Home. There is no convincing defence of that. Always worth reading, Rafael Behr gets better and better:

“This is an old problem. Not everyone who wants less immigration is a racist but every racist wants less immigration. So it is hard to craft a message for the concerned non-racist without earning unwanted nods of approval from the racist. Hard. Not impossible. Clarity of intent is vital. The vans fail this test because they are unlikely to have a discernible impact on numbers, while certain to reinforce the impression that the nation is overrun with illicit foreigners. The government accepts the view of many voters that Britain is full to the brim with people who don’t deserve to be here. That assertion doesn’t always recognise a difference between legal and illegal status, nor between economic migration and political asylum. For the Home Office to drive around brandishing a pair of handcuffs is to abet the suspicion that there is something generically illegitimate about being foreign-born in the UK.”

David Cameron has given the campaign his continued approval. His election strategist Lynton Crosby once viewed it as a promising political wedge – but now reportedly believes it gave UKIP a leg up. Some commentators have observed that the alarmed publicity about the Go Home campaign will confound analysis of whether it is ‘working’. I’m not sure which indicators of success the government is using – that seems to be the fundamental question. In their absence, I’m assuming the proof of the pudding with votes – a swing from UKIP to the Conservatives in elections, set against a reduction in voters of migrant background who vote Conservative. Is that reasonable, if crude?

But what about the government’s short-term decision about whether to carry on along this tack? Will it be numbers of voluntary repatriations, or will pollsters will tell them? A YouGov poll for The Sun (pdf) found that 31% of respondents thought the campaign racist, with 39% considering it in poor taste but necessary. As far as I can see, that’s without the pollsters showing them the handcuff imagery, telling them about the National Front resonance, or pointing out that the boroughs targeted have a certain ethnic profile.

Constrast that with the reaction of local politicians of all political stripes. Here in the pilot boroughs we know that this initiative will kill support for the Conservatives in the local elections. That’s why it is a good idea for prominent Conservatives working at a local level to join the general condemnation as they have (though I’m sure they’re genuinely incensed too).

Another thing the YouGov pollsters omitted to mention was that the Home Office Twitter feed is trying to pass off arrests of suspected undocumented migrants as success of their war on illegal immigration. David Allen Green pointed out that  “For the @ukhomeoffice to say those arrested are already #immigrationoffenders is to prejudge their cases and possibly contempt”. Several commentators have noted that the Home Office neglects to mention how many they subsequently released. I think the approach the Home Office is taking is simply dreadful – the Twitter feed is exclusively anti-immigration, as if the Home Office had no other function. And I feel worried because they do actually think we’re prejudiced enough to maintain our own ignorance about what is going on here, and not ask too many questions.

What about the junior coalition partner in government? The Liberal Democrats don’t seem to have been consulted either and I don’t know of any defending the campaign – Vince Cable’s verdict: “stupid and offensive”, I’ve heard that Clegg disapproves. He apparently called it ‘not clever’ or something mild like that. Lib Dem activist Caron Lindsay is stronger:

“They’re not just trolling us, they are trying to toxify us. If they can get our voters thinking that we have abandoned our belief in civil liberties, then that’s a job well done for them … Nick’s done quite well in the past few days saying what sorts of things need to happen on immigration, like exit checks and spoken out against these god awful vans. However, the language he’s using is still a little too “crackdown” rather than “fairness” for me. When things like the vans or the tube station checks happen, every liberal collectively retches. However, you’ll get a part of the electorate, and some of them might vote for us, feeling in some way reassured that something is being done. We talk of the importance of policing by consent. What happens if a good proportion of people consent to policing of others by intimidation? For me, it’s back to first principles every time. We’re liberals, and we don’t agree with that sort of thing.”

She points to advice from politics.co.uk editor Ian Dunt (who seems to have been reading Anti-Raids Network advice) on what to do if you are stopped. Of course, it would be a lucky undocumented migrant who got to read a blog, but perhaps some potential witnesses and advocates… He quotes the UK Border Agency’s own guidance for its officials and points out that it stipulates a high standard.

“Before seeking to question someone, an IO [immigration officer] will need to have information in his possession which suggests that the person may be of immigration interest (that is there are doubts about that person’s leave status). The information in the IO’s possession should be sufficient to constitute a reasonable suspicion that that particular person may be an immigration offender. Any IO stopping and questioning an individual will need to be in a position to justify the reasons why they considered that threshold to be satisfied in that particular case. Any questioning must be consensual. The paragraph 2 power to examine does not include a power to compel someone to stop or to require someone to comply with that examination. Should a person seek to exercise their right not to answer questions and leave, there is no power to arrest that person purely on suspicion of committing an immigration offence.”

That is pretty conclusive: speculative checks of the kind we have seen on the transport system this week are illegal. It looks as if the Home Office has broken British law – which justifies UKIP calling the activity un-British. If you’re not worried by the hostile environment for legal and illegal immigrants alike, hopefully you find the attacks on civil liberties more of a problem. Today, immigrants. Tomorrow, any other group the government calculates could earn them votes. The next day, goodbye democracy.

So in short we have a campaign which targets darker skinned people with accents, fomenting mistrust between them and more established communities, which the government reckons speaks for itself – “Tough on immigration!” – without their having to communicate how they identify success – arrests of “suspected #immigrationoffenders” are supposed to suffice. So, objecting to this campaign is not about whether or not it’s racist to impose limits on immigration – it’s about resisting government attempts to flout civil liberties and conduct an aggressive campaign within these borders, exclusively for political reasons rather than because it works.

What can be done?

  • Prospective Conservative voters, don’t vote Conservative – and mention the Go Home campaign when you tell them why you didn’t. Or failing that, criticise them in public – they’ll probably take it more seriously from their own (good for you, Derek Laud).
  • Be prepared to be an advocate if you witness a spot check – see the Anti-Raids Network.
  • Unite is making legal objections.
  • Labour Peer Lord Lipsey referred the posters to the Advertising Standards Authority.
  • According to The Independent, the Equality and Human Rights Commission is examining the campaign for “unlawful discrimination”.
  • There are some petitions to sign, including this one from RAMFEL.
  • The campaign needs close scrutiny, and to be discussed with friends and family.
  • We need to sufficiently educate ourselves about migration to recognise when politicians and sections of the media try to divert us with tough talk and publicity stunts. Us and Them, a new book by Bridget Anderson quoted at the top, looks helpful here. Her colleague from COMPAS Ben Gidley has a good piece in The Conversation on assessing the real impact of migration. We need evidence, impact assessments and – for pity’s sake – a little efficiency once in a while.
  • Have a laugh – follow the #immigrationoffenders hashtag on Twitter. David Scheider calls the Home Office campaign a “preliminary rounds of the UK Hunger Games”.
  • We need to demand fairness, for example targeting employers – there’s at least one group of likely Conservative voters which probably has its head down right now.
  • And incidentally, an important kind of fairness is global prosperity where nobody is driven from their place of origin by lack of livelihood. In desperate circumstances, people’s choices narrow to nothing. How about that side of things?
A revised Go Home van

A revised Go Home van

Have you seen this van in Redbridge?

You work when there’s work to be had. You can’t afford a new outfit for your brother’s wedding – let alone a present. Let alone a stag do. You’re angry and two things make you even angrier. One is people on benefits who look like they shouldn’t be. Another is people who don’t come from this country who live 5 to a room, work for their uncles, price your employer out of the market and you out of a job.

The Conservative-led coalition government is pretty sure you’ll fall into line behind their latest initiative.

Exacerbating community relations, by van

Exacerbating community relations, by van

The initiative is led by Mark Harper, Minister of State for Immigration and Conservative MP for the Forest of Dean – he’s @mark_j_harper on Twitter. The Government says:

“Over the next week, two vans will be driven around Hounslow, Barking & Dagenham, Ealing, Barnet, Brent and Redbridge and will show residents how many illegal migrants have recently been arrested in their area. They will also show a text number that migrants can message to arrange their return.”

Sometimes I’m afraid of the Conservatives and this is one of those times. Why would migrants abandon everything that is familiar, make a long, arduous and often treacherous journey to the UK only to then live in frankly dreadful conditions and work without rights or proper pay? Because they have nothing to lose where they were before. Perhaps their lives were under threat back home. Perhaps there was no work and no social security. Perhaps there was a war, or a mafia.

Make no mistake, you would do the same. That’s not to say that you have to put up with the situation. Like everybody else I want a working NHS and working public services – and those things depend on maintaining the proportion of taxpayers to service users. But nevertheless, you would do the same – and you would deserve compassion and assistance. Not for your neighbours to start associating you with images of handcuffs.

The trouble for me is that these poor, desperate people, who have moved here to become poor, lonely, exploited, desperate people, are the last people who should be targeted by the government. They are being treated as culprits when in fact they are victims. In some ways they are being treated as vermin to be cleared away.

The first question is, who is profiting from these people? Who is selling – and buying – goods and services at a price so low that the people working to deliver them cannot be paid a decent wage? Who is transporting the migrants, who is employing them, who are their slum landlords? These are the ones who need to be brought into line with the law. And if they keep within the law and there is still a problem, then the next question to ask is, why do migrants feel it would be better to nearly destitute themselves in Britain rather than remain where they were born? And then you will discover stories which make your heart heavy, which bring out the generosity of spirit that this government has given up on. And you will realise why the International Development budget exists.

It may well be that these vans form only part of wider government initiatives to make it hard for undocumented migrants to set up home here. As it is, though, these vans are on the streets of Redbridge and other London boroughs and they are the only part of the action that most people will ever see or hear about. And the message these vans are sending out is potentially a very damaging one. They make it seem as if the people who are here without permission are culprits and criminals who need to be taken away in handcuffs. The mixed message of the handcuffs and the “Let us help you” will bring out the worst fears of most migrants, I’d imagine – because my hunch is that the picture will speak louder than the words. And for the rest of us, whose right to be here isn’t under question, what are we supposed to think? To me, this is somewhere further along the line to official incitement against migrants than this country has seen for a long time.

This government thinks it is appropriate to try to gain support by turning us against some of the poorest and most vulnerable amongst us. I think the Conservatives are trying to make fools of us.

Preliminary thoughts about what to do next:

  • Ramfel (Refugee and Migrant Forum for East London – their Facebook page seems to be most recently updated) is concerned with community relations. If you spot the van, contact them so that they can take action to monitor the repercussions, and counter any misinformation about illegal immigrants. If you don’t use Facebook, then try info@ramfel.org.uk – there you can also offer help leafleting.
  • Write you your MP
  • Write to Mark Harper.
  • As usual keep your criticism sharp and grounded, don’t rant, don’t exaggerate, don’t insult our public servants, and don’t forget that there is a massive fight for the scraps at the bottom of this society which is ripe for exploitation. Just make the best arguments possible.

Updates

  • The Twitter hashtag (shared with a bunch of random stuff) is #GoHome
  • The leader of Brent Council has made short statement of protest.
  • More from him on the BBC.
  • And here’s a video of Minister Mark Harper misrepresenting undocumented migration as a kind of anti-social petty crime, cut with shots of that nasty van.
  • @The_UK_Migrant points or that this new policy is likely to amount to stop and search.
  • Why shouldn’t London be less like Operation Wetback and more like New York?
  • Even the Daily Mail – bastion of anti-immigration sentiment – thinks the Go Home vans are ridiculous.
  • PICUM – the Platform for International Cooperation on Undocumented Migrants – is a good resource.
  • Nigel Farage is crowing about the Go Home Vans, rightly assuming that this is the Conservative response to the UKIP threat. When he then proceeds to call the campaign ‘nasty’ he fails to grasp the irony of this recognition.
  • It’s Saturday night and via Barkingside21 on Twitter I know of two reported sightings. Just two, in Kilburn and Willesden Green. Not a very busy or comprehensive tour, then. Perhaps the Go Home Van is feeling a little outlandish? Good.
  • The campaign has united leaders from all parties on Redbridge Council. They have sent Teresa May a unanimous message. It goes: 1) not about us without us and 2) fuck off with your rabble rousing.

Unite Against Fascism

I write this because my trade union branch has diverted some of the branch funds to Unite Against Fascism. I feel Unite Against Fascism is an affront to its own name, and consequently that I should repair for my inadvertent complicity. I can say that I did speak during the debate of that motion but my trade union branch tends to attract a like-minded attendance at meetings and the outcome was not what it should have been.

Wrongs perpetrated against Britain’s Muslims have dramatically increased since poor Lee Rigby’s murderers invoked Islam as justification for their Woolwich atrocity. Support for their actions was virtually non-existent – although it’s worth pointing out that the disgusted British Muslim majority had to fight for British media attention. So, among other things, Woolwich has revealed a strengthening of social cohesion – for example, since the notorious YouGov poll of British Muslims conducted for the politically-right Telegraph after the London bombings of July 2005, which revealed worryingly high levels of support. However, the Faith Matters’ initiative Tell MAMA (Measuring Anti-Muslim Attacks) has recorded a newsworthy increase in attacks on Muslim people and property since Woolwich (it’s worth mentioning that questions about the credibility of Tell MAMA are to be expected for any group trying to raise the issue of racism – some criticisms will have their roots in reflex denial, others will have racist motivations, and others will be valid; that said, Tell MAMA isn’t yet very good at reporting its data). It’s clear that the British nationalist far right has moved swiftly to exploit the Woolwich outrage by blaming Muslims, organising intimidatory marches and – the criminal among them – attacking Muslim people and property.

When street activity is intended to, or has the effect of, intimidating people in minority groups, it’s commendable to take to the streets in solidarity. Unite Against Fascism has so far both convened and dominated street-based counter-protest against the British nationalist far right. However, on balance and for the following reasons, I think that Unite Against Fascism does far more harm than good. I’d also say it’s over-focused on the gratifications of street protest. The University of Northamptonshire and Demos both identify the EDL has a highly Web-enabled movement, but the UAF has neglected to organise against the far right on the Web.

UAF members are known for provoking and getting involved in charged, antagonistic exchanges on the street. As such, UAF contributes to what Roger Eatwell calls ‘cumulative extremism’ and Paul Jackson calls ‘tit for tat radicalisation’,

“‘Tit for tat’ radicalisation emerges when two radicalised perspectives
discover antagonistic features within each other’s ideology and actions,
leading to an escalation of radicalisation within two or more groups.”

The EDL was formed in response to an Al Muhajiroun rally in Luton in 2009. Clearly anti-facist organisations need to interfere with this reciprocal relationship between jihadis and the British nationalist far right – UAF does the opposite and actually feeds the division.

But by far the worst aspect of Unite Against Facism is its betrayal of its own name. UAF welcomes support from jihadis (militant fundamentalist Muslim totalitarians who comprise a tiny proportion of Muslims as a whole), and this has made it impossible for it to oppose fascism, racism and bigotry which is endemic to jihadism, particularly against Jewishness, women, homosexuality and Muslims who disagree with them. Critics of UAF on this count include Sunny Hundal, who wrote,

“…left-wing groups don’t mobilise against these religious extremists as they do against the far-right. Anti-fascists who happily march against the BNP or EDL rarely show that level of commitment against Anjem Choudhary’s group. Why? There even seems to be a reticence to admit that the EDL feeds off Muslim extremists …”

and Peter Tatchell (former – perhaps continued – supporter) who wrote,

“UAF commendably opposes the BNP and EDL but it is silent about Islamist fascists who promote anti-Semitism, homophobia, sexism and sectarian attacks on non-extremist Muslims.”

UAF’s Vice Chair Azad Ali is a terrible choice – the opposite of appropriate for an anti-racist organisation. He opposes democracy if it prevents the implementation of sharia law in Britain. He also lost a libel case against the DM for calling him “a hardline Islamic extremist who supports the killing of British and American soldiers in Iraq by fellow Muslims as justified”.

Unsurprisingly, the UAF’s problems with analysing facism aren’t limited to blind-eye-turning. According to those who study them (see the aforementioned Demos and Northampton reports) the EDL is not fascist but populist far right. This is important because unless UAF is committed to an impartial analysis of the changing far right in Britain, we need to recognise that it has no chance of identifying effective opposition to fascism.

As well as undermining the ‘against facism’ part of its name, it also tramples the ‘unite’ bit. In case there’s any doubt by this stage, UAF is not a democratic organisation and has made it very hard for individuals and groups to influence its decision-making unless they are politically aligned. So, it becomes clear that UAF’s programme is not after all anti-fascist. It feels its own political ends are best served by leaving some fascists to go about their business.

Consequently UAF has no answers to social division along ethnic and religious lines. This is intolerable to me and I find the argument that these ills are outweighed by UAF’s contribution to street protest entirely unacceptable. I can only imagine the disorientation experienced by young people who come into UAF’s orbit and find a definition of anti-racism distorted beyond recognition.

I can’t bring myself to turn out under a Unite Against Fascism banner and I will be conscientiously avoiding its events. I’ll continue to support all genuinely anti-racist organisations, including  Hope Not Hate.

Update

Although I’m not capably keeping up with with commentary at the moment, there’s plenty more to say about this, including:

The Politician’s Husband and the clown’s clown.

I’ve been watching The Politician’s Husband, a serialised psychological thriller which presents the front bench of the parliament as iredeemably venal and treacherous. Its writer, Paula Milne, paints a picture of unalleviated scheming, betrayal and bad character which obscures most of what is really important about politics. She says what she really wanted to do is explore marriage. Politics suffers collateral damage.

Milne gives us a duplicitous former front-bencher (the titular husband) whose oldest friend, best man and political ally betrays him, catapulting his wife (the titular politician) into power. A pastiche of emasculation, the deposed husband can now only love the newly empowered wife when he perceives her to be weak. To drive the point home we find he needs his son, a vulnerable child with aspergers, as much as or more than the boy needs him. Predictably enough the increasingly estranged couple bond over the boy’s vulnerability. But their bed is unsafe, their sex life a horrifying battleground, and the husband ricochets absurdly between remorse and connivance. The only character with any integrity is the husband’s father, an academic who supplies the husband with grounded and incisive alternative viewpoints, but is otherwise inert and serving as a dramatic device to illuminate the husband’s downfall. The politician seems primarily hypnotised by power. At one point, the chief whip remarks (to the treacherous best friend, who himself has designs on the party leadership) something like “Wouldn’t it be something if we could put as much energy into solving this country’s problems as we do into feathering our own nests”. In fact it’s Paula Milne who’s abusing politics to pursue her own interests.

It’s true that politicians’ surgeries are often banal. But it’s irresponsible, because untrue and at a time when trust in politicians is exceptionally low, to claim that leading politicians (all of them, mind you – she never names a party and the implication is that politicians are homogenous in nature) care more about their own positions than they do about anything else. Nelson Mandela, Vaclav Havel – there are plenty of others who take the yoke of leadership because it’s their turn, their duty, and it keeps the bad ones out. While she’s busy turning people off politics – collateral damage of using it as a convenient backdrop to what is little more than a dramatisation of marital politics – Paula Milne should keep in mind that electoral engagement has never been so low.

Today’s London Evening Standard leader on UKIP’s local election gains was something like ‘Farage: voters send in the UKIP clowns’. I am kind of grateful to Nigel Farage. He’s the opposite of Milne’s characters. And though I’m certain that given enough power UKIP would ruin this country in months, I think a protest party and a protest vote is infinitely better than no vote at all. Back in 2010, the Electoral Commission briefed (in its October 2010 Factsheet on Turnout that

“Turnout at the local elections in May 2010 was 62.2%. The unusually high turnout could be explained as a result of the local elections being combined with the UK general election. Local election turnout in 2009 was 39.1%, marginally lower than the 2008 average of 39.9%.”

I don’t have figures for this election. A quick web search suggests high 20s for several councils. Which is dire.

Farage is a strange decoy politician. And yet compared to Paula Milne’s characters he looks like a winner. I could have never felt this warmth for Farage before seeing The Politician’s Husband. Of course, none of this is Paula Milne’s fault – but along with all of us, it is her problem.